Last Friday, we flew out to Georgia to attend the Big Daddy Unlimited...
The venerable pump-action shotgun has been around for more than a century, and it still remains popular to this day. Virtually every gun owner we know has at least one, whether it’s for defense, hunting, skeet/trap shooting, or just for blasting some huge holes in targets at the range. There’s something about that metallic ka-chunk of chambering a shell that will always warm our hearts.
When it comes to home defense, there’s plenty of debate about the ideal weapon platform. Some go for traditional shotguns, while others prefer a rifle, pistol caliber carbine, or handgun. Many variables come into play here, including the environment, the threat(s) you’re facing, and local laws that may restrict weapon type or capacity. No matter your choice, one thing is clear: a reliable light source is critical for any home defense gun.
If you ever find yourself facing an intruder who has broken into your house, it’s likely to be at night under cover of darkness. A dependable, bright, and easy-to-operate flashlight will aid in target identification and help you decide if you’re going to pull the trigger. A flashlight may even even be enough to disorient or deter a criminal entirely. But if that light fails to do its job, you might end up at a major disadvantage, so it’s wise to choose it carefully.
At SHOT Show earlier this year, Streamlight showed off its new shotgun forend flashlight, dubbed the TL-Racker. As soon as we saw it, we wanted to know more.
This flashlight is clearly poised as a competitor to the SureFire DSF forend lights, which have been on the market for quite a while, and are priced at either $400 (600 lumens) or $600 (1,000 lumens). Like SureFire, Streamlight offers this product for both Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590 models. However, the TL-Racker is substantially less expensive, with a $225 MSRP and street prices around $120.
The Streamlight TL-Racker features a sleek design with a lens that’s recessed into an impact-resistant body. It runs on a pair of included CR123A lithium batteries, which install into the body via a removable cap at the rear. The light is O-ring sealed for an IPX7 waterproof rating, so it can be left soaking in water with no issues (we can’t promise the same for the shotgun it’s mounted on).
A pair of 4.5-inch pressure switches running the length of the forend make this light fully ambidextrous, and can be activated in either momentary or constant-on mode. Press and hold the switch for momentary activation; press and release it for constant-on. Output is a very healthy 850 lumens, and throw is 237 meters (778 feet). Advertised run time is 1.5 hours.
With batteries, our TL-Racker weighed in at 11.3 ounces. It’s constructed of what Streamlight calls “virtually indestructible” nylon polymer, with a ridged and heavily-textured underside for positive grip.
Going into this review of the TL-Racker, we decided to compare it to the existing light setup on our Remington 870 Tactical 12-gauge. It has resided on this gun since shortly after we bought it, and it’s pretty similar in terms of performance.
The old setup uses a Streamlight ProTac HL ($135 MSRP), which produces 750 lumens from two CR123A batteries. This is designed as a handheld flashlight, so it features Streamlight’s TEN-TAP programmable switch, but we had no desire to cycle through modes on a weapon-mounted light — we used the TEN-TAP system to set the light to only activate in the high-output setting. Claimed run time is 1.25 hours in this configuration; throw is 270 meters. We also removed the pocket clip that came with the light.
To attach the ProTac HL to the shotgun, we selected a CDM Gear Mod-C ($50 MSRP). This mount clamps onto the barrel using a hex screw, and holds any 1-inch-diameter flashlight. It’s machined from solid aluminum, and the inner surfaces are coated with no-slip grip pads to avoid marring the finish of the barrel and mag tube. There’s also a limited-rotation quick-disconnect sling swivel built into the mounting screw hole, so you can use the Mod-C to install a push-button QD sling as well as a flashlight.
We like the fact that the Mod-C mount can be used to attach the flashlight flush with the muzzle or only slightly recessed, and can be adjusted to the shooter’s preference. This keeps it out of the way of the shotgun’s moving parts, and reduces the shadow cast by the barrel to a minimum.
Activation is a downside to this setup. The tail cap switch position is perfect for pressing forward with a thumb to turn on the flashlight, but that also means it’s perfectly-positioned to smash into that same thumb if your grip slips while racking the shotgun quickly. We learned this the hard way, and it wasn’t pleasant. Activating the light in momentary mode is difficult for the same reason.
From a cost standpoint, the light and mount add up to $185 if you’re buying everything at MSRP. If you’re going by the more-realistic street price, the ProTac HL can be found for $60 online, bringing the total down to $110. Compare this to the $120 street price for the TL-Racker, and it’s mostly a wash.
After unbolting the Mod-C and ProTac HL, installing the TL-Racker was relatively straightforward, with one exception. After removing the magazine cap (or extension) and barrel, you’ll need to remove the original forend from the action bar assembly. This requires unscrewing the retaining ring inside the forend:
A specialized tool is available, but not strictly necessary. We didn’t have the tool, so we used a set of long-nose locking pliers with 3/16-inch tips that fit perfectly into the ring (see below). After the ring is off, just slide the action bar assembly into the TL-Racker, reinstall the ring, and reassemble the gun.
Racking the shotgun with this new forend is comfortable. Aside from the rougher texture and slightly increased diameter, it didn’t feel substantially different from the original Remington part. We definitely appreciate the large recess between the battery compartment and the light itself, since this improves comfort and helps lock in a firm grip.
It’s simple to press either of the long switch pads, and they produce an audible click on activation. However, there are two spots on each pad where the switch produces a click-clack sensation, almost as though the switch has two stages. The TL-Racker only has one output mode, so it seems like this is just a byproduct of the switch design. This is only noticeable if you press firmly on the switch in specific places, and doesn’t appear to affect the light’s functionality.
The TL-Racker’s output just as bright as we’d hoped, and visibly more powerful than the ProTac HL, albeit not by a huge margin. The ProTac has a faint blue cast to its output; the Racker is a faintly-warm white. Beam pattern is the most substantial difference — the ProTac features a dense central spot with a gradient of dimmer light around it, while the TL-Racker spreads its light across a wider area in a relatively-even gradient. The ProTac seems better-suited for a rifle, so we strongly prefer the Racker’s wide beam for the close-quarters nature of this application.
We did encounter one issue — the bottom-mounted sling swivel on the barrel clamp that came with our Remington 870 Tactical protrudes in front of the flashlight. This creates a shadow at the top of the beam. It’s noticeable at close range, but doesn’t intrude on the sight picture at all. To alleviate this entirely, we plan to switch to an aftermarket barrel clamp with a sling mount on the side, such as the Magpul Forward Sling Mount ($30 MSRP).
We’re glad to see Streamlight enter the shotgun forend light market. In comparison to to SureFire’s offerings, we’d still give SureFire an edge in build quality, but the TL-Racker is a strong competitor because of its affordable price. The integrated battery compartment and flush-mounted lens on this forend makes it feel more like the light is a part of it, and less like it’s attached to it. The same can be said when drawing comparisons to our old barrel-mounted light setup — the TL-Racker feels like a part of the gun, and can be operated as such.
That said, we still like the Mod-C and ProTac HL a lot, and actually found ourselves on the fence about which setup we prefer. The easy-to-use, ambidextrous switches and wider beam pattern of the TL-Racker were the deciding factors that pushed us to stick with it, and we anticipate moving the front sling swivel will improve it even more. However, you really can’t go wrong with either setup.
For more info on the new TL-Racker, go to Streamlight.com.